Yes, I Teach Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight in My English Composition Class, by Jes Simmons
Although there are critics (both scholarly and “armchair”) who scoff at Twilight and its success as a literary and cultural phenomenon, I am one of many educators who use Stephenie Meyer’s novel in college classrooms. I approach Twilight seriously. My extensive teaching notes are based on my own reading and interpretation, as well as on scholarly articles that have been written about Twilight itself and the Twilight saga as a whole. These articles are helping to correct the rushed judgement and misconceptions by those who summarily dismissed Twilight as being poorly written. It’s not. Twilight is brilliantly written, and the story arc of the entire saga is extraordinarily satisfying.
I use Twilight in my college English classes not because of its huge popularity and success or because the novel is a terrific and quick read for my students—even for those who hate to read—but because its various themes make it an effective catalyst for the research paper. My students use Twilight as a springboard for researching, personally connecting with, and writing about ten pre-selected topics. Among these are:
- The effect of divorce on children and adolescents
Bella Swan’s parents get divorced when Bella is a baby; her mother takes Bella to Arizona, where a young Bella loses her childhood and matures too quickly because she alone must run the household for her “hare-brained” mother.
- The complex and changing definition(s) of “family”
This topic examines what makes up a family: the “solid” Cullen vampire family of separate individuals versus the “broken” but blood-related Swan human family. It may also include Jacob Black’s Quileute family.
- The dynamics of cliques and peer groups in schools
In Forks High School, Bella finds two peer groups—her five human friends and the five Cullen siblings—and in Twilight she successfully but secretively negotiates both the human world and the world of vampires.
- The nature of physical attraction, first love, love at first sight, and soul mates
Twilight is a Romeo-and-Juliet love story about two young people who feel disconnected from those around them, but are drawn together to fall in love for the first time, despite powerful forces that threaten to keep them apart.
My students research one of the topics, use critical reading skills to connect the topic to the book itself, and then employ personal-experience writing to link the topic to their own lives. For example, a student who writes on the effect of divorce on children and adolescents (and this may include “parentification”) will research that topic, further explore and expand it through Bella Swan and her family in Twilight, and finally connect all of this to her or his own experience as a child of divorced parents.
I also use Twilight to explain argumentation to my writing students. Chapter 24 provides accessible examples of logic appeal or logos, emotional appeal or pathos, and ethical appeal or ethos. In “Impasse,” Bella and Edward employ logos, pathos, and ethos when they argue about turning Bella into a vampire. Bella spots verbal weaknesses and evasion quickly; earlier in the novel, Bella easily picks apart her father’s not-quite-candid description of the truck he generously bought her to use in Forks.
Aside from using Twilight as a springboard for student research papers, I chose Meyer’s novel because my students will actually read the book. Most of the young women in my classes first read Twilight when they were in middle school, and they are eager to read it afresh, especially now that they are slightly older than protagonist Bella Swan and have usually experienced the love and relationships they’d previously only read about. They are delighted to discover meanings and insights they missed the first time they opened Twilight. Granted, many of the young men in my classes initially admit dreading or being embarrassed to read the book, but soon they get caught up in action-packed vampire chase and fight that propel the book to its conclusion.
Like Bella, author Stephenie Meyer’s everyday life expanded and was altered forever after she wrote down a vivid dream about a 17-year-old girl and an immortal vampire who will always look 17, though he was born in1918. I tell my students how Meyer came to write Twilight and how she was able to get it published, hoping to encourage them.
Let me confess to one additional reason for teaching Twilight. At the end of the semester, I remind my students that Meyer, who chose to major in English in college, is now worth over $100 million. Part of me hopes this fact alone might compel students to join Stephenie Meyer in choosing English as a valuable and potentially “lucrative” major and, indeed, several students have told me that reading and writing about Twilight persuaded them to take creative writing classes.
At the end of last semester when students were loading up their cars to leave campus, a student honked and beckoned me over. He rolled down his window and shyly admitted, “Just between you and me, Dr. Simmons, I really enjoyed Twilight.” Another student concluded her required reader’s response by noting, “Twilight did not help me understand my life experiences; instead, my life experiences helped me understand Twilight.” And this semester, a student who chose to write about the impact of divorce on children admitted that reading Twilight finally brought closure after her parents’ divorce. She poignantly hoped that her mom and dad would find their own Edward or Bella and that she would also find her own Jacob or Edward. She ended by asserting how reading Twilight and admiring Bella Swan also helped her to just be herself and be unafraid to take on anything.
Twilight is all about how your choices affect yourself and those around you. Knowing that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight can have such profound and positive impact on students reaffirms my choice to offer it in my classes.
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-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers